Winner of the 2022 Louisiana State Nurses Association’s Nightingale Award and named Louisianan of the year by Louisiana Life magazine, Tanisha Smith, NP, began her nursing career in 2003.
Smith started as a nurse tech in our health system, and the next year began working as a registered nurse in the oncology department at Our Lady of the Lake Health. She has been a nurse practitioner in her current role as clinical coordinator of the adult sickle cell clinic at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center since 2014.
“I really wanted to focus on building relationships with patients, and nursing gave me that opportunity,” she says. Ultimately, Smith wants all her patients to receive the quality of care she’d want for herself and her family.
“This is my calling. I think this is where God wants me to be,” Smith says of her work.
“I am honored to do what I do every day. Sickle cell patients are often mistreated and misunderstood. I fight for them to ensure that they live their best life with their disease. I also want them to know that I ‘see’ them as individuals who have the same desires as I do to live a life full of dignity and strength.”
In addition to physical symptoms, sickle cell patients can experience depression and anxiety. Smith hopes to eventually take classes in psychiatric mental health so she can offer her patients mental health care in her office instead of referring them to other locations for those needs.
Early Career Direction
After high school Smith earned a degree in biology from Southern University with a plan to pursue a career as a doctor.
“After witnessing the birth of my best friend’s son my interest in becoming a nurse was sparked. I marveled at the attentiveness of the nurse and the relationships and trust built between the patients and their nursing staff,” Smith says. “At that point I decided to change careers and pursue an additional degree in nursing.”
Throughout her successful career, Smith has continued to work with her patients in mind.
“Some of my biggest challenges have been learning to advocate for my patients,” Smith says. This was often difficult for me as a novice clinician but I am now more comfortable speaking my mind and addressing injustices.”
When she reflects on who has been most influential in her career, Smith names her patients.
“As a young oncology nurse I watched cancer patients face horrible diagnoses and unimaginable suffering with dignity and grace. Their faith was unwavering and many spoke of the ‘goodness of God’ even at the ends of their lives,” she says. “Now my sickle cell patients inspire me daily with their tenacity and warrior spirit.”
Smith fights the burnout that’s common with her emotionally demanding job. She makes sure she takes time off for herself, and her Christian faith helps her get through the challenging days. When not caring for her patients, she loves spending time with her husband and children as well as traveling.
Diversity and Equity in Healthcare
Diversity in our workplace is a priority for our health system.
“It is important to have diversity in healthcare because patients need to be able to see individuals that look like them,” Smith says. “It is also important that patients meet individuals who have shared belief systems like them. Diversity is also necessary because we can learn from each other and our experiences however different they are.”
Many factors determine a person’s overall health including access to transportation, healthy foods and safe living conditions. Screening for and addressing these social determinants of health is a standard part of the care provided by our health system.
“I take care of patients who have a chronic disease that they were born with. Unfortunately, they still do not have access to care throughout this country,” Smith says. “Patients lack hematologists that are willing to treat this disease. Many of them travel from Opelousas, Lafayette and the Alexandria area to receive comprehensive care for their sickle cell disease. In addition, there is a lack of mental health resources for them which complicates matters.”
Building Beloved Community
This year in recognition of Black History Month, our health system is reflecting on The King Center’s 2023 theme to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work and life: It Starts with Me: Cultivating a Beloved Community Mindset.
Smith builds community in many ways.
“As a provider I provide education throughout the hospital regarding sickle cell disease to nursing and support staff,” she says. “I have also participated in community outreach opportunities promoting sickle cell disease awareness.”
About celebrating Black History Month, Smith says it’s special to her because “it gives our country an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans. History books often don’t reflect all the contributions that we have made to this country. It is important that everyone understands that there have been notable achievements by people of color since we stepped foot on America’s shores over 400 years ago.”
When reflecting on accomplishments of Black Americans in history, Smith thinks of Harriet Tubman, Dr. King, Charles Drew, Medgar Evers, Shirley Chisholm and Katherine Johnson, and a favorite quote is from Ms. Chisolm: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
Our DEI Commitment
Our ministry’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion supports culturally competent care education for our team members all year long, including during Black History Month each February.